“Plagiarism is something people are expelled or suspended for, but there seems to be a near-infinite tolerance for rape.”

**Trigger warning**

It was announced yesterday that a group of current Yale undergraduates and young alumni have filed a Title IX complaint against the University. The complaint was filed several weeks ago and yesterday, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced that it will begin an investigation into how the University handles complaints of sexual harassment and assault.

The complainants, a group that comprises sixteen male and female students, allege that because the University has failed to properly respond to sexual harassment and assault, Yale campus is a “hostile environment,” that, in the words of one of the complainants, “precludes women from having the same equal opportunity to the Yale education as their male counterparts.”

The Yale Herald reports:

In the complaint itself, personal testimonies of five students are presented as evidence, alongside accounts of recent high profile instances of sexual harassment on campus. Though it was the latest instance—misogynistic chanting by Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges during an initiation ritual this fall—served as a trigger in the filing of the complaint, it comes in a long line of well-publicized cases. In 2005, fraternity members stole t-shirts inscribed with the testimonies of sexual assault survivors from the Clothesline Project on Cross Campus. In 2008, Zeta Psi pledges were photographed holding a sign emblazoned with “We Love Yale Sluts” outside of the Women’s Center. Though the Center threatened to sue on the grounds of sexual harassment, the case ultimately never materialized. In 2009, a crude email entitled the “Preseason Scouting Report,” which ranked incoming female freshmen based on their sexual desirability, was circulated amongst fraternities and male athletic teams.

While these high-profile examples have no doubt contributed to the “hostile environment” to which the complainants object, the other major problem is how Yale responds when a student reports that he or she has been sexually harassed or assaulted.

Yale, like many universities, prefers to handle cases of sexual and harassment internally rather than turning to the courts. The complainants believe that in doing so, the University doesn’t prosecute perpetrators harshly enough. As one of the complainants told the Yale Herald, “plagiarism is something people are expelled or suspended for, but there seems to be a near-infinite tolerance for rape.” The group of sixteen also believe that Yale student who are subject to sexual violence do not have adequate access to external means of redress, like rape kits and outside legal representation.

It’s easy to understand why Yale and so many other universities – my own alma mater most certainly included – prefer to handle cases of sexual violence as quietly as possible, and without involving the legal system. As craven as it is, and as much as I disagree with it, the motive is clear: Yale has a reputation to protect. Yale, a three-hundred-year-old Ivy League institution, is one of the greatest universities in the country and in the world. Yale turns out world leaders and captains of industry. Yale does not turn out rapists. And if it does, the administration sure as hell doesn’t want the mainstream media finding out about it.

What’s happening now – the media attention being focused on public acts of misogyny and private acts of violence against women at Yale – is the last thing Yale wants. Which is why I’m so grateful for the sixteen brave women and men who have filed this suit. I hope very much that it succeeds and forces real change at Yale and on campuses around the country. But even if it doesn’t, it has brought one glaring, unacceptable truth to light. And that is that when given the choice between investing in real cultural change that would end sexual harassment and assault on campus, and investing in the formation of internal committees and disciplinary boards that keep cases of sexual violence quiet and hidden from public view, Yale, like countless other colleges across America, chose the latter. And I hope that this case will make it more difficult, or at least more costly, for schools to continue to do so.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted April 1, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    At my school, even though we didn’t have fraternities, some guys stole t-shirts from the Clothesline Project (and, of course, people got harassed at Take Back the Night rallies). I think this post is spot-on and what’s concerning is how prevalent this type of culture of college campuses is. Great analysis–thank you!

  2. Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    When I first learned that colleges handle sexual assault cases on their own, my first question was, “Why?” After all, rape and other forms of sexual assault are violent crimes. That’s what the police exist to handle, right? I can’t say what I would do in that situation, but I’d like to think I would press charges and make as much noise as possible about what had happened to me, and who had done it. I wouldn’t even think of going through the university, my contingency plan in case I am ever assaulted is to find a friend to drive me to the hospital for a rape kit, and then to go to the police. I am privileged in that I know my family would be able to afford legal assistance for me, and would do so without hesitating. Not everyone has this luxury, and that is part of what makes universities’ policies of sweeping sexual assault under the rug so despicable. Those who can’t afford to fight the issue get no justice. To me, this is a much worse stain on a university’s reputation than that the assault happened. Individuals do bad things. The ones responsible for them need to take proper action.

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      When I was assaulted (not raped, but demeaning nonetheless) at a freshman frat party, I went to the student dean, who was my “advocate”. I explained what had happened and asked what my options were. She looked at me and said “you could go to the police, but you’ll get into trouble because you were drinking underage. and it would be your word against his.” Apparently colleges and universities are more concerned with their public record than the safety of their students. I never reported the assault.

  3. Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    It’s so bizarre that misogynistic frats like that even exist at such prestigious schools, you’d think the crazy entry requirements would weed them out…

  4. Posted April 1, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    I really hope they win their case but even if they don’t, it might help others in campuses around the country stand up for their rights. There have been rape cases at the university I attend before I attended that were swept under the rug. I have known many women who have been raped in college who had to leave college as a result because of the challenges of emotionally coping and school at the same time. But all these men get is kicked out and the ability to potentially attend another university with lax punishment for rape. Yale can say they have a reputation to uphold but what kind of reputation is a university that allows a silent rape culture for decades? I believe in the reputation we can read about and see and that reputation that permeates the people involved in the place and the spirit of the place. Rape must be handled as a violent criminal crime and universities should not cater to protecting the reputations of rich or privileged men at the expense of women working to make a future for themselves without harming anyone like that in the process.

    With the way things have been in the world lately, I have been very cynical. But reading things like this give me a bit of hope.

  5. Posted April 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    This could truly be a watershed case. In fact, it is already.

    It is absolutely appropriate and in fact essential to point out that if and when any institution assumes responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of any crime, it must, necessarily, be held to at least the same standard as the criminal justice system.

    In fact, I would go so far as to argue that, because the institution has taken it upon itself to replace the justice system, it is automatically proclaiming itself superior, and as such, should be held to an even *higher* standard when it comes to protecting victims and ensuring justice!!

    I really, really, really want them to win.

  6. Posted April 6, 2011 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    Spawning off of Catie’s comment from above:
    It is very unfortunate to think that our schools, other groups, and overall society value the appearance of order rather than tackling problems to their core. While Yale and such other cases will allow certain things to slide to protect a name or reputation, the result is further corruption. If we allow sexual assault and violence to become excused, cases such as these will continue to reoccur. What we need to do is take action, regardless of the status you think you will lose for taking such action.

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